Homily for the Feast of the Ascension 2019
2 June 2019
Cathedral of St. Raymond, Church of St. Jude, and Sacred Heart Parish.
On Friday we celebrated the feast of the Visitation, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. This feast marks Mary’s going in haste to the hill country of Judea following the Annunciation. But it also marks the moment when, recognizing the Messiah already personally present in the womb of Mary, John the Baptist leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth.
The body that signaled the presence of God is the same body that grew to term in the belly of Mary and was born in Bethlehem. It’s the same body that became a little boy growing up in Nazareth. It’s the same body that was submerged in the Jordan River and anointed with the Spirit of God. It’s the same body whose hands healed the blind man and the leper. It’s the same body that walked on water. It’s the same body that rode into Jerusalem on top of a donkey. It’s the same body that climbed the stairs to the upper room and the same body whose hands took bread, whose eyes raised to heaven and the bread was broken and given to the disciples. It’s the same body that collapsed three times under the weight of the cross and whose face was wiped by Veronica. It’s the same body whose head was pierced with thorns, whose wrists and feet were pierced with nails, whose side was pierced with a soldier’s lance and out of which flowed blood and water. It’s the same body above whose head Pilate hung the sign: INRI – Iesus Nazaraenus Rex Iudaeorum; Jesus of Nazareth.
It’s the same body that was taken from the cross and laid in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. It’s the same Mary Magdalene couldn’t find on the first day of the week. It’s the same body who appeared to the disciples in the upper room, although the doors were locked. It’s the same body into which Thomas put his finger and believed.
Finally, today, it’s the same body of Jesus that ascended into heaven.
Jesus took on our flesh, and he took on our very life, the life of humanity, and did not disdain to take it with him when he returned to the Father. In Jesus, even the physical matter of our humanity is blessed and sits at the right hand of Almighty God.
Because Jesus became fully human, while remaining fully God, and because he has brought our humanity back to the Father, everything in God’s creation becomes ripe with holiness; everything reveals the face of God.
And because everything reveals the face of God, everything has meaning for us. And because we know that God is good, and that creation is good, and that Jesus once was dead and is now alive and living at the right hand of the Father, the meaning which everything has will always point to, reveal, and bring about joy.
I didn’t say “comfort” or “convenience” or “joviality” or “fuzzy, affirming feelings”, but joy. That deep, abiding, joyful peace that comes with knowing that the only thing left to fear, death itself, has been conquered by Jesus and that in Jesus, something magnificent is being offered to us.
Even the most dismal things are defined by a joyful meaning. The most dismal thing that can happen to us, namely death, has been conquered by Jesus. This means there is no longer any reason to fear death and live a life motivated by escaping, delaying, or outsmarting it.
Jesus ascended to the Father and he brought our full humanity with him. In a word, he paved the way from the cross to the tomb, from the tomb to newness of life, and from that resurrected life to the fullness of heaven. As the collect from the Mass today said, his ascension is our exaltation.
We have said so many times in recent weeks that everything in Christianity is leading us to union with God. That reality is on full display today; he ascended to the Father and promised to take us with him. He promised us that we would experience a share in the divinity of the Father even as we retain our humanity.
We are no longer marked by the fear of death as our primary motivation. Now, the Christian is motivated by his or her affection for Christ. This affection leads us to know him more intimately, and to recognize his presence everywhere. It is the awareness of this presence, and the memory of our initial and ongoing encounters with Jesus that are the most decisive trait of the Christian.
We are wont to heed the Lord’s call to follow him in this life; we discern our vocations and do our best to strive to live a virtuous life. But let’s remember the end we’re working toward: the fullness of our humanity, the fullness of life, in total union with God forever. Can we hear Jesus speaking to us tonight, even now, from his new place at the right of God as he whispers to us? “Will you follow me, even to the sky?”